Here’s How to Fix Water Damaged Wood Furniture Easily

Wood is porous so any exposure to water will damage your wooden furniture eventually, especially if it ends up sitting in water or if you have high levels of humidity.

The level of damage will depend on the type of furniture you have and also the type of wood it is made from.

In this guide we will look at various types of damage you may find on your furniture and how to repair them, if possible.

How Does Water Damage Wood?

Wood is a natural material which absorbs moisture like a sponge. This means it is susceptible to damage, mold and even rot when exposed to water.

Water gets right into the wood and can cause it to swell up, move around, warp, crack, bubble, stain and even crumble and eventually fall apart.

It’s Not Looking Good, Wood

Wooden furniture really does not take kindly to water.

Wooden furniture that has been exposed to water or moisture will require prompt action and some elbow grease if you are to save it from the junk yard.

Your chances of success vary greatly depending on the type of wood you are dealing with. As a rule of thumb, the more solid, natural and heavy the wood is, the better your chances of success. With man made materials such as MDF and veneer furniture, it will largely depend on the level of damage.

Solid Wood Furniture
Solid wood furniture can suffer a variety of damage from water. Various wood finishes may protect the surface a little but water can still get in. This can lead to white rings, spots, stains and discolouration. Wet wood can also rot or turn moldy.

Worst damage usually occurs when wood is constantly in contact with moisture. If water keeps getting into the wood, it eventually swells up and becomes swollen and distorted. This can dislodge joints such as legs or corners, warp the wood and cause cracking and overall problems with use.

There may be aesthetic effects such as whitish spots or marks and black rings on surfaces where water has been able to seep in. This is known as ‘blushing’ or ‘bloom’. There may also be dark grey or black discolourations. The darker the stain, the more significant the damage, as moisture has penetrated further down into the wood.

Here are some common signs of damage you might spot;

Light Coloured Stains

This may be the earliest sign of a problem. The lighter the stain that appears, the better the chances of removing it. We have provided a variety of methods below that you can try.

Dark Coloured or Black Stains

The darker the stain on your furniture, the deeper the moisture has penetrated. You may therefore find it more difficult to remove.

These stains or spots may also indicate mold or mildew infestation which will require treatment. See below for methods.


Wood that has swollen and distorted from water damage may also warp or crack. Warping occurs when the wood expands from the extra volume of the water, causing bumps and unevenness.

In some cases, water damage restoration from warping may be best left to professionals.

MDF / Veneer Based Furniture

Furniture made out of veneer or MDF may experience more damage than solid wood following exposure to water. It might not be possible to repair.

Veneer is typically a man-made material made from a core of plywood, wood dust, particle board, MDF or fibreboard glued together and finished with a top surface such as laminate or a thin layer of wood. The wood can swell due to water damage which can displace joints, cause the veneer surfaces to peel off, blister or chip and possibly ruin the item.

Repairing Solid Wood Furniture

It may be possible to save your solid wood furniture if you act quickly.

Step 1 – Dry the Wood Completely

The first task is to dry the wood out completely. Set up a ‘drying area’ for this purpose. You want this to be somewhere you can leave the furniture while it dries out, which may take some time. It needs to be well-ventilated without direct sources of heat or direct sunlight. You can however use fans to create air flow to help the wood dry. Use a cloth to remove excess and leave it there to dry out fully.

Step 2 – Assess the Damage

Once your furniture is completely dry, you can inspect the damage. If your furniture has warped or developed structural problems, take care when assessing it. Do not force open drawers, cupboard doors or compartments or likewise force them to close as this could cause irreparable damage. Every repair job is unique so inspect each item separately.

You also need to check for signs of mold or mildew and if found treat this next before beginning your repair. See section below for guidance.

Step 3 – Remove Stains and Watermarks

The action you take to remove stains and watermarks in your wood will depend on the severity of the problem.

You will need some micro-fibre cloths and cleaning products. Some of these are common household resources and others you can buy especially for the job. You might want to try several, starting from the top of the list and working your way down if unsuccessful.

Always wear gloves and test an inconspicuous area first before you begin. Use the cloth to apply the cleaner in a circular motion, to carefully draw out the stain. You may have to repeat several times until the stain gradually fades so be patient. Also, do not over-wet and be careful to remove excess afterwards.

Cleaning Agents You Might Have at Home for Light Stains;

  • Baking soda mixed with water may draw out light stains
  • White vinegar mixed with a drop of olive oil may also work
  • Toothpaste rubbed in a circular motion has mild abrasive qualities that can remove slight stains. You can also make a paste with toothpaste and baking soda.
  • Cigarette ash mixed with a drop of oil, rubbed in lightly is said to work (remember to test first)
  • The oil in mayonnaise or petroleum jelly might lift the water stains

Stronger Cleaning Agents or if your Stains are Darker;

  • Commercial wood cleaners are available for this purpose, follow the instructions given
  • Mineral Oil or Spirits may lift stains, even deep and ingrained ones
  • Turpentine or white spirit may help
  • Paint stripper can remove surface blemishes – apply in clean strokes with a paintbrush and wait for it to oxidise (bubble). Take a putty knife or scraping tool and scrape the surface off along with the blemishes, going with the grain of the wood. Sand down afterwards
  • You can also try ironing the stain using a towel and an iron on low heat, which will warm and then release the moisture into the towel

TIP; Remember to use protective gear when working with chemicals and work in a well ventilated area to avoid breathing in fumes and always test on a hidden area first.

If All Else Fails… Sanding
If you are unable to clean off the stains using cleaning agents, you still have the option to sand down your solid wood furniture to remove imperfections and restore it.

You can use sandpaper or a belt sander, if you have one. Work in a well ventilated area and use protective goggles and a dust mask.

Sand your wood in the direction of the grain. Do the water damaged areas first, remove the dust and then assess your progress. You may have to do the whole surface of the wood if it becomes very uneven. You may also have to sand joints or other parts if they are warped, distorted or misshapen.

Remove dust with a soft dry cloth and you are now ready to begin repairs.

 Step 4 – Repairing Your Solid Wood Furniture

Now you have your furniture dry, clean and free from mold and stains, you can begin to repair any other damage if required.

There may be damage to the joints, legs, doors, hinges or other parts depending on the item in question. You may be able to use wood glue to repair the furniture or you may need stronger fixings such as plates, brackets, new hinges or screws, nails or bolts. Gently move the timber back into the right places and use the fixings to repair. You may need to clamp in place while drying (if using glue).

Once your furniture is repaired, you can move onto finishing and protecting the wood.

Step 5 – Choose a Finish and Apply

There are a variety of options you can consider to finish your furniture and get it looking good again. Oil based products will be more durable than water based. For example, you can stain, paint or varnish it and even give it a whole new lease of life by changing the finish or colour. You may simply want to restore the wood to its original finish and bring back the beauty and lustre of the natural grain. Stain sealants can add some colour as well as provide protection from water damage.

Apply your varnish, stain or paint in a well ventilated area and with a clean paintbrush. Use even strokes and apply 2 coats, allowing each to dry.

You also want to protect your wood further from future damage. You could consider applying a marine based polyurethane coat to make the furniture even more water resistant or use furniture oil, lacquer or a wood moisturizer. This will offer a protective barrier against future moisture.

You can make a DIY wood polish from 1 cup of mineral oil and 1 cup of white vinegar. Linseed oil is also good.

After use, polish the furniture well and it should be looking good again!

Repairing MDF or Veneer Based Wood Furniture

This type of furniture, while lightweight and durable, is extra vulnerable to water damage. This is because the glue used to produce it may not be water resistant so the veneer surface may separate, blister, crack or completely peel off. The swelling caused by water entering can also cause joints to become warped or misplaced. There may also be stains, watermarks, chips, blistering or dents.

Whether it can be repaired will depend on the extent of the damage. To attempt to repair your veneer wood furniture, follow the steps below.

Step 1 – Dry the Wood Completely

Set up a drying area that is well ventilated and not in front of direct heat or sunlight. Blot away any excess water with towels and place the item in the drying area to dry out fully. If possible, open drawers or doors to dry the piece inside and out (but do not force open). Remove any backing if possible, to allow air flow.

Step 2 – Assess the Damage

Once your furniture is completely dry, inspect it to see if it can now be repaired. See if any loose joints will fit back together and whether you have surface (light coloured) or deeper (dark or black) water stains. Check for signs of mold or mildew (grey, brown or black spots) and decide whether you can repair or clean the veneer finish or even remove it and apply a new finish to the whole piece once repaired.

If you decide to try to save the item, treat any mold as detailed below, then move to Step 3.

Step 3 – Remove Stains and Watermarks

If your item’s veneer surface has only sustained stains and watermarks rather than chips, blisters, swelling or separating, you might get away with just a bit of cleaning.

Using a soft, microfibre cloth, try using the cleaning agents suggested above for solid wood to remove the stains from the surface. Alternatively, regular furniture polish might work. Do not rub too hard or you may strip off the finish.

You can also try lightly sanding the surface in the direction of the grain to remove stains.

You can then wax and polish the surface.

Step 4 – Repairing Your Veneer Furniture

There can be many types of water damage to your veneer furniture so let’s consider a few of the main ones and what you can do to fix them.

Small Blisters

Small blisters can be flattened using heat. Use an iron on a medium setting and place a piece of card and a small towel over the area. Move the iron around slowly and keep assessing your progress. When you have done, leave the card in place and place some weights on top. Leave overnight.

You can then wax and polish the surface.

Large Blisters

Large blisters will first need to be slit open. Take a sharp knife and cut the blister down the centre, then apply heat with an iron as above. Once the blister is flat, you may need to apply a little wood glue to stick the edges down again. Use a knife to scrape out any old glue and then apply glue generously before sticking down. If the edges overlap slightly, use the sharp knife to trim them back slightly. Wipe away any excess glue and leave to dry with weights on as above.

You can now wax and polish the surface.

Loose Veneer or Completely Coming Away

The veneer may be coming away, especially around corners, edges, legs or drawer fronts.

If undamaged, you can use wood glue to reattach the veneer. Scrape off the old glue and clean both surfaces to be glued with white spirt on a cloth or sand down lightly. Be careful not to peel back too much veneer as you work or it may snap off or crack. Apply glue to both surfaces, remove any excess glue and leave to dry with weights on or clamped in place.

You can now wax and polish the surface.

Small Dents in the Veneer

Dents happen when parts of the wood inside the veneer have been pushed down by the swelling. Place a little water into the dent and leave for a few seconds. Take a damp cloth or tea towel and cover the dent while holding an iron over it. The heat and moisture will hopefully work together to move the fibres back into place.

Gouges or Gaps in the Veneer

The dent may have broken the fibres so you will need to take a putty knife and fill the gaps with wood putty or filler until it overflows. Leave to completely dry and then sand the area well with a sanding block and coarse sandpaper.

Paint or stain to finish.

Uneven Surface

Swells in the veneer caused by water can be sanded down if the veneer hasn’t crumbled or separated. Use a hand sander and work evenly across the entire surface.


Chipped veneer looks unsightly so you will probably need to refinish the entire piece afterwards.

Use a sharp knife to pull up and cut away any loose or chipped veneer. Use wood filler or putty to fill in the gaps where you removed veneer. Use a generous amount and allow to dry. Use a sanding block to sand to a smooth finish.

You might also decide to remove all of the veneer and see the condition of the wood beneath. You can then opt to add new veneer, sand down and varnish or paint the entire surface. There are many types of veneer furniture so this decision will depend on the type you have. It will also depend on whether you are able to get the veneer off. You may need special tools like a heat gun or you could try using an iron and wet towels to melt the glue and remove it. Scrape the veneer off with a chisel.

Repair the Carcass

There may be damage to the joints, doors, frame, hinges or other parts depending on the item in question. Use wood glue or fixings as described above for solid wood to repair the furniture. You may have to replace some panels or boards. Use clamps to hold the repairs in place while the glue dries.

Once your furniture is repaired, you can move onto finishing and protecting.

Step 5 – Choose a Finish and Apply

There are a variety of options you can consider to finish your veneer or MDF furniture depending on how damaged the original veneer was. You may even have opted to update the piece and give it a more modern look.

You can add new handles and hardware and really go to town with your transformation if you wish. Chalk paints are popular right now and give good, durable finishes, or you may choose to refinish just a section, such as the top. You can also buy veneer strips for edgings that are easy to apply.

Apply your varnish, stain or paint in a well ventilated area and with a clean paintbrush. Use even strokes and apply 2 coats, allowing each to dry.

You also want to protect your furniture from future damage. You could consider applying a marine based polyurethane coat to make the furniture even more water resistant or use furniture oil, lacquer or a wood moisturizer. This will offer a protective barrier against future moisture.

You can make a DIY polish from 1 cup of mineral oil and 1 cup of white vinegar. Furniture polish that contains wax works well on veneer and MDF furniture.

How to Clean Mold and Mildew from Wood Furniture

If your furniture shows signs of mold or mildew (dark grey, brown or black spots), you will need to treat and remove this before commencing stain removal and repair.

To remove mold, fill a bucket with warn water and add two cups of bleach. In a well ventilated area or outside, use a scrubbing brush to clean the mold thoroughly, using plenty of the water (wear rubber gloves while doing this). Rinse thoroughly with clean water, pat dry and then leave to fully dry naturally.

See LINK for our in-depth guidance on removing mold and mildew.

Repairing Upholstered Water Damaged Wooden Furniture

Upholstered furniture can be more difficult to dry and clean. Place the item in your drying are as described above and see if it dries out fully. This may take several days so be patient.

You can then assess it and see if it can be saved. You may have to remove the upholstered sections and replace them, for example on chairs, especially if the upholstery is damaged, still damp or turning moldy. Pressure cleaning using heat may be required. You need to consult a professional.

It may not be possible to remove contaminated water from the upholstered sections.

If not contaminated, dry your upholstered furniture fully.

Clean any stains or watermarks on your furniture with a cloth dipped in a mild solution of warm water and detergent or washing powder. Do not over-wet and remember to test a small area first. Use clean water to rinse and allow to dry fully.

When to call a Professional

If your water damage is substantial and affects a number of items, you may need professional advice on restoration. Our team can help you with restoration of a large number of items.

Call today for advice.

With individual pieces, such as family heirlooms or items with sentimental value, it may be best to consult a professional furniture restoration company for advice.

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